Sweden’s biggest intelligence threat last year came from Russia, states the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) in its annual report for 2014. Russian espionage is extensive and has grown apace with the Ukraine crisis, finds SÄPO.
“Illegally – and under the cover of diplomatic postings – Russian intelligence officers gather information about Swedish defence, politics, the economy, technology and science, and political refugees. One example is the Russian military intelligence service (GRU),” writes SÄPO.
GRU seeks to purchase equipment that is classified or subject to embargo to raise the technical standard within the Russian defence, according to the Swedish intelligence service, which claims to have blocked several attempts to buy “export-banned products”.
GRU has also sought to recruit agents and hack into IT systems and “shows interest in” the military, police and other “expatriate personnel”, according to the report.
Meanwhile, SÄPO estimates that around 150 Swedes have gone to Syria to join Islamic State or similar organisations, and at least 50 suspected jihadists have returned to Sweden.
Cyber attacks are becoming more commonplace, and Sweden should therefore raise the threshold against such attacks and build up the technical capabilities to launch its own cyber attacks against foreign powers, according to Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister.
He reveals to Dagens Nyheter (DN) that Swedish companies and authorities are the target of daily and varying forms of often very precise attacks, with the potential to cause major damage. In several cases it has emerged that foreign intelligence organisations are behind the attacks.
Hultqvist sees cyber attacks as a way to exert pressure on foreign countries before the situation reaches the point of armed conflict, and says this has happened in both Estonia and Georgia, and most recently in Ukraine where the attacks trace back to Russian interests.
Out of the ten countries currently conducting espionage activities in Sweden, Russia followed by China are the two most active intelligence gatherers, according to the Swedish Security Service.
The minister, who sees Denmark as a role model in beefing up its cyber security capabilities, says Sweden must be able to protect vital Swedish systems from attackers.
The government will today present proposals to the alliance parties at the defence budget talks, which aim to put in place stronger controls to protect against cyber attacks and build up Sweden’s own active capabilities as a deterrent against attacks.
“We believe this to be a very cost-effective way to raise the threshold for a power contemplating an attack on Sweden, or to exert pressure,” says Hultqvist, who does not wish to go into the cost aspect or which authority should be responsible for the active cyber attack capabilities.
Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has told public service broadcaster SVT that the government will be placing an SKr 8.2 billion order for two new submarines from Saab Kockums. The minister announced the news while visiting the Karlskrona shipyard on Tuesday, although a formal decision will not be made until Thursday. The submarines will be delivered in 2022.
Following Sweden’s cancellation of the defence co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Enterprise Minister Mikael Damberg have invited some 40 business leaders to a meeting on Thursday to discuss how export companies can develop their business in the Gulf States.
Dagens Industri (DI) reported last week the diplomatic row has meant that a number of companies have seen contracts being terminated. However, Swedish industrial group Sandvik has not been affected, according to chief executive Olof Faxander, who have been invited to the meeting, but who is unable to attend. He says to the business daily: “We believe that trade, openness and a presence in many countries around the world leads to economic development and improves conditions in those countries”. He expects Swedish firms will continue to develop their businesses in the region, which offers significant opportunities for growth.
The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) has welcomed the Swedish government’s decision to cancel the defence deal with Saudi Arabia and is now calling on the government to scrap other agreements, such as the one Sweden has with Thailand. The co-operation agreement is linked to Saab’s sale of an integrated air defence system with Gripen fighter jets and the Erieye radar reconnaissance system.
Following the military coup last year, Thailand’s PM, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised elections will be held but Human Rights Watch recently noted that the country is descending deeper into dictatorial rule. And, for officials at the Swedish Ministry of Defence, the situation in Thailand is problematic.
“We are preparing the question, on what form of co-operation we should have,” a ministry spokesman says.
Sweden currently has military co-operation agreements with 32 countries.
Isabella Lövin, the minister for international development cooperation, who is currently attending the UN conference on disaster risk reduction in Japan, says the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu places a focus on the very problems the conference is about.
“It is estimated that 98% of the people who die in natural disasters live in developing countries. A lot of damage reduction can be achieved with the help of preventive measures, but for countries like Vanuatu such measures are extremely costly,” says Lövin.
Meanwhile the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) is currently following up information about an elderly Swedish male citizen who is missing.
On Monday Russia launched a surprising military exercise in the Arctic, with the deployment of 38,000 troops, 41 military vessels, 15 submarines and 100 planes to the region.
“This is a massive contingency move by a regime that has a propensity to use surprise as an element to demonstrate its power. The unpredictability in the Russian action requires us in the Nordic region and in the EU to cooperate in strengthening our military capability,” commented Peter Hultqvist, the (S) defence minister, and emphasised the need for more military exercises in the Arctic.
“We have a security situation that has worsened. Russia’s actions are the fundamental reason for this worsened situation,” he said.
In 1998 the EU adopted a code of conduct on arms sales containing eight criteria, including one of respect for human rights, and in 2013 the EU-28 signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the trade in conventional arms to countries that violate human rights or that use the arms against their civilian populations. Despite this many European countries rank human rights in second place when it comes to arms trading, reports Svenska Dagbladet. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, no less than eleven European countries have sold heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia over the past five years.
Commercial interests, and the arms industry which generates thousands of jobs, far outweigh the risk that arms are being used to violate human rights and to torture people. Economic policy takes precedence over morality, jobs take precedence over war crimes, writes SvD.
Some argue that the arms trade strengthens security in critical regions, and that business is a way to influence countries in the right direction in terms of human rights. Other condemn the trade: spineless, ethically objectionable and in some cases illegal, argue the critics.
There are competing views, and the controversy over Sweden’s Saudi deal is unlikely to narrow the perception gap, concludes the newspaper.
Saudi Arabia’s snub has stirred a reaction from Swedish MPs with Karin Enström, the Moderate Party spokeswoman on foreign policy, placing some of the blame on the Swedish government.
“It’s a serious matter if Sweden’s voice is stopped or weakened. There is a risk of relations getting burned with countries in the region. First of all Margot Wallström was not welcome in Israel and now her speech has been blocked,” Enström said to TT.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven did not wish to comment on Monday, but it is quite clear that Saudi Arabia’s move came as a shock, according to Ulf Bjereld, a professor at the University of Gothenburg.
Valter Mutt, the Green Party spokesman on foreign policy, believes Saudi Arabia’s decision to block Ms Wallström’s speech is “the final nail in the coffin” for the agreement.
The Green Party, the Left Party and the Christian Democrats are all keen for the deal to be torn up, while the Liberal Party is calling for a decision to be taken at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
“There is absolutely no reason left to sell arms to such a country. I believe we should seize the opportunity now that this has happened. We might as well cancel the deal straightaway,” Liberal MP Maria Weimer has said.
Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Sweden as the diplomatic dispute between the two countries grows. The news emerged a day after Sweden tore up the decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Officially Sweden has said that the Saudi ambassador was summoned to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Tuesday where he was informed that the agreement would be cancelled.
However, Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reports this morning that the Saudis had received advance information ahead of the Arab League meeting in Cairo that Sweden intended to tear up the agreement. The MFA had apparently told the Swedish Embassy in Riyadh to pass along the news to the Saudi government.
The newspaper has not been able to receive confirmation as to when the meeting took place, or the Saudis’ reaction to the news.
The paper also reports that the Saudis has already informed Sweden that their ambassador was being recalled.
“We took the opportunity to express the hope that the ambassador would soon return and stressed Sweden’s interest in having good relations with Saudi Arabia,” Erik Boman, Margot Wallström’s press secretary tells the TT news agency.